|Willard Thompson will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
The author graciously agreed to discuss the subject of: How did you come up with your title?
So, here in his own words:
In Spanish the word Paloma has two very different bird meanings. It means both dove and pigeon. For most of us those two birds have different connotations: Dove, a gentle bird that coos; Pigeon, an aggressive pecking bird. Is Teresa Diaz a dove or a pigeon; her father calls her La Paloma. What does he mean? At times in the novel she is a gentle dove but other times she’s an aggressive pigeon. The duality of the title describes Teresa’s conflict. She is a very pretty Latina, born in Mexico and raised in a Latino neighborhood in southern California. But she is also an AB540 student attending UCLA, trying to fit into the American culture with an American boyfriend and California career plans. When her father is deported in an ICE raid, Teresa must go deep into Mexico to find him, bringing on a series of mysterious events that challenge her self-image and change her life.
La Paloma is not a crime-heavy cartel story with lots of murders and bloody events. It’s a story about Teresa Diaz’s facing the question of who she is, a daughter of Mexico’s proud history or a Latina trying to fit into the American Culture? When the story opens, she is an AB540 scholarship student at UCLA, working for a degree in communications and dating a Caucasian boy. But when her father is deported in an ICE raid, Teri must go into Mexico to bring him home. She doesn’t have documentation, so it’s a risk, but her family is falling apart, and she feels compelled to go. Her journey into Mexico is like falling down a rabbit hole into mysterious events, but it also becomes a journey of self-realization that included a romance with the son of a cartel boss. In the end, many of her questions are answered, and some are left ambiguous and unanswered.
My interest, as it is in all my novels, is how a situation effects the people involved in it. In this case a 20-year-old Latina named Teresa Diaz. She is a young woman who has been brought up in many of the traditions of Mexico, living in a southern California community that is heavily Latino, trying to be an American girl. How can that possibly be good for her self-image?
I love Mexico. I’ve been there more than a dozen times, several on business. I know first-hand the beauty of the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, and the country’s history. I spent 4 days working with the US Border Patrol intercepting Mexican smugglers wading across the Rio Grande River from Juarez to El Paso. These were not dangerous men. They were middle age men trying to make a living to support their families. I interviewed several of the smugglers we apprehended (that is a story for a different time because it was a cops and robbers comedy it you ever saw one) and one of them told me in Spanish, pointing at his running shoes that his daughters didn’t want to wear cheap shoes like he had on to school. They wanted Nikes and Adidas. That tells you a lot about the Mexican economy.
I did the trip with the Border Patrol as a journalist, but it gave me much of the input I needed for my novel. This is not a gritty cartel crime story. In reality this is a coming of age story in which Teri must wrestle with and decide who she wants to be as an adult. In the next to last chapter she tells a new friend, “I just want to be proud of who I am.” The ending is ambiguous. Hopefully asking readers to think about what Teri will do; and maybe asking themselves what they would do.
Some years back I became familiar with the fact that UCLA was giving free scholarships to undocumented aliens under a state law AB540. It led me to start thinking about the situation of a young Latina with no documentation trying to get an education in order to blend into the American culture.
More recently, our government has struggled with what to do about the DREAMers. The situation has been compounded by the Congressional battle over immigration and building walls (we used to call then fences), and ICE raids that deport undocumented Mexicans, breaking up families. Finally, the situation with drug and crime cartels has come strongly into public awareness. So, all of this is great grist for a novelist.
~*~ Thank you, Willard. Now about the book itself! ~*~
When Teresa Diaz’s father is arrested in an ICE raid in a Los Angeles area city and deported back to Mexico, her family begins to come apart. She is a student at UCLA on a scholarship for undocumented aliens (Dreamers) looking to have a life in the U.S. in communications. Her brother in High school and her elementary school sister begin having serious troubles without a father in the household.
At work in a fast-food drive-through, Teri, as she wants to be known is approached by a Mexican gangbanger who offers to take you to her father. Doubting the guy wants more than picking her up, she resists, but day by day, as her sister is sent home from school and her brother is brought home dunk by the police, she gives in and goes across the border with him. Against her wishes, he takes her to a beach house in Tijuana and leaves her. She learns that illegal activities are going on in the house but without transportation, and without a birth certificate –either Mexican or American– she can’t cross the border alone.
After several days, virtually a prisoner, the owner of the house, a fat woman known as Mama Gorda arranges to get her across the border with a young Mexican man who rides a fast motorcycle. On the way, he takes her to lunch and there offers to talk her deeper into Mexico to find her father. She agrees, travels in his private plane and begins a romance while searching for her father in Michoacan state. The more she becomes involved, the more she is involved in activities she doesn’t understand but suspects they’re illegal.
Returning to Monte Vista, her LA area home, still without her father, she finds she can no longer return to UCLA, seeks a job, connects with a Latina who bullied her he school. When her brother is arrested for jobbery, Teri returns to Mexico seeking help from the people she suspects to belong to a cartel.
Ultimately, she is sponsored by the people in Mexico to participate in the Miss Mexico contest, not realizing it is the Cartel that is promoting her. In the end, she will face a life-changing decision whether to continue her romance with the son of the cartel’s head or try to stand on her own. And whether to remain in Mexico or return to LA.
Javier looks over at me from the pilot’s seat. He must have noticed my clenched hands, or my pallor or the way I sit slumped down in the seat. “First flight in a small plane?” he asks.
“First flight, period.”
He laughs. “An American girl like you has never flown?”
I think I hear a hint of sarcasm in his voice when he says, “American girl.”
I am an American girl, but not a privileged one. Mama wasn’t anxious to go any place that might require IDs. There was no extra money for vacations to places that required a plane ticket. At first, our family spent all our holidays with Rogelio and Lupe, but after Antonio died, mama and Lupe drifted apart.
“There’s only one place I’d want to go,” papa always answered when the question of travel came up, “back to Michoacán where mama and I grew up. I’d like to show you the beautiful land we came from.” At that, he always paused, getting a kind of sad-eyed look. “But we can’t go there, my little dove. So, we’ll go to Disneyland or Magic Mountain instead.”
To Javier, I’m an American girl, To Ryan, I’m a Latina. Mama Gorda said I was neither. She said I was lost. Who’s right? Who am I? I feel lost in this airplane. I sit up straighter in the cushy leather seat next to Javier.
“I am American,” I tell him. “I guess I’m a pretty naïve one though, jumping into a small plane with a man I hardly know. You think I’m a fool, don’t you? Or something worse.”
“Not a fool, Teresa — please let me call you that — but perhaps too trusting. That could get you in trouble in Mexico. Here it is better to trust no one.”
“Not even you?” I tease.
“Not even me.”
I hadn’t expected that. “Tell me why?”
“Please call me Javier.” His smile is warm and genuine, but he keeps his eyes straight ahead and his hands on the controls.
I wait for more.
Reluctantly, in little bits and pieces, as the plane flies on, he tells me about himself. He says his family is in the export and distribution business. They’ve done well, and he is benefiting from it. A little embarrassed, he says he hasn’t done much to contribute to the family business since graduating from Stanford.
“So why were you at Mama Gorda’s?” The question has bothered me from the start.
His eyes scan the horizon. It’s several seconds before he answers. “We each have our embarrassments,” he starts. “Sometimes it’s good not to ask too many questions. I won’t ask you about what you were doing at Carmen’s house, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. Suffice it to say my family’s company does some distribution work for her. Most of her business is over the Internet, of course, but we deliver some DVDs to L.A.”
“Smuggling, you mean?”
“As I said, some questions should not be asked or answered.”
We fly on in silence and land in Culiacán to refuel. Javier leads me into the tiny airport restaurant where we eat a quick lunch in silence. Questions ricochet in my head like the bullets that killed Antonio. What kind of danger am I in? Am I in danger with Javier? Who are all these people? Ever since I agreed to cross the border with Knobhead, it feels as if one bad decision after another is plaguing me. My life is out of control.
Sitting at a table in the small airport lounge, Javier breaks the silence as I sip an iced tea. “Look, I’m sorry if I shock you. I thought it was better to be honest with you from the start. You don’t understand life in Mexico so let me try to explain—”
“Explain? What’s to explain? You all but said you are a smuggler, Javier. what’s to explain?”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
La Paloma is Willard Thompson new suspense/adventure/romance inspired by current headlines. It’s set in present day Los Angeles, California, and various cities in Mexico.
The Girl from the Lighthouse published last year is Thompson’s Award-winning historical romance set in California and Paris, France in the 1870s.
He is the gold medal-winning author of Dream Helper, the first in The Chronicles of California series of three historical novels set in the early days of the Golden State. He and his wife live in Santa Barbara, California.
Barnes and Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/la-paloma-willard-thompson/1136266389
Willard Thompson will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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